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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibetan children teach life lessons to teacher

August 28, 2008

Tibetan children living in exile in Dharamsala teach volunteer to
lead with her heart.
By Lynann Bradbury
The Seattle Times
August 26, 2008

"Move your heart forward," said the woman in front of me. I squinted,
as if my eyes could amplify the yoga instructor's voice above the
sounds of a town beggar pounding on the window. I was in Dharamsala,
India, near the Pakistan, China and Tibetan borders. "You can do this
gently," the yogi said. "It doesn't have to be a struggle. Just look
up, take a deep breath and move your heart forward."

Was she commenting on my contorted pose or referring to my life? I
was poised on my hands and knees, on the cold concrete floor of a
dilapidated hotel. A tear found its way down my right cheek.
Apparently, when your heart moves forward, your eyes leak. At least
the right one did. My left eye was swollen shut, closed by a spider
who'd taken up residence in my pillow the night before.

"That's one way to get some 'shut-eye,' " joked one of my fellow
volunteers. Sleep had been as scarce as a shower since I arrived five
days earlier. I had joined 14 volunteers from the U.S. to teach
digital storytelling at the Tibetan Children's Village, home to 2,000
refugee kids, from ages 3 to 16.

We had enrolled in a two-week program with Bridges to Understanding,
a nonprofit organization in Seattle founded by international
photographer Phil Borges. After photographing dozens of cultures
around the globe, he wanted to give them an opportunity to have a
voice, to share their experiences with others. "Our goal is simply to
increase the empathy that exists in the world," Borges said.

As volunteers to this northwest corner of India, our goal was to help
preserve the culture of these Tibetan children living in exile, by
teaching them Web-based storytelling. They choose the topics; we
teach them photography, storytelling, content editing, audio
narration and digital production, enabling the kids to produce
vignettes for the Internet.

As much as I enjoyed the teaching, little did I know I would become
the student.

These children personify joy. They smile instantly, grab your hand
and skip across the playground, grateful for any adult's attention.
They live in group homes of 100, looking after each other with a
sense of compassion that belies their years. Most will never see
their parents again. The kids were escorted out of their homeland,
braving 20 days and nights of frostbite, fatigue and altitude
sickness to escape over the Himalayas out of occupied Tibet. They tug
at your heartstrings because no matter what you offer them, you can't
bring their families back.

Returning to the cold cement floor, I wondered: What allows them to
move their hearts forward? Even after being displaced from their
families, uprooted from their homes, and separated from everything
they know, they practice compassion, gratitude and joy. It made me
think: What do we have to lose before we appreciate what's in front of us?

As I stretched into another yoga pose, I started seeing more clearly,
albeit through one eye — or maybe because of it. It was time to
release the struggle, and replace it with compassion, gratitude and joy.

"Voluntourism" has a way of doing that to you. It's not just a
vacation; it's a life-changing adventure. One that allows you to move
your heart forward.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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